According to hormone specialist Marla Ahlgrimm, pregnancy is a time in a woman’s life when her body changes rapidly thanks to a combination of a growing fetus and increasing hormone levels. However, there have been many documented cases of women experiencing what they thought was pregnancy only to go into “labor” to find there was never a fetus.
Marla Ahlgrimm recommends that all women of childbearing age practice safe sex if they do not wish to get pregnant. She also encourages women to seek routine medical care and to consult with an OB/GYN if they experience any symptoms of pregnancy or are unsure if body and hormonal changes are normal.
So What Causes These Phantom Pregnancies?
Marla Ahlgrimm says phantom pregnancies are rare. However, hormonal changes are often the culprit. As a woman’s hormones fluctuate throughout her menstrual cycle, she may mistakenly believe she’s pregnant, especially when she is more bloated and irritable than normal. Women who don’t typically experience breast tenderness during their cycles may also suspect pregnancy when this occurs for the first time.
Stress and anxiety can also trigger hormonal changes that can make a woman miss her period. This can strengthen her belief that she is with child. Marla Ahlgrimm says it’s also important to note that stress and anxiety can cause a change in appetite, nausea, fatigue, and other physical symptoms that closely mimic pregnancy.
In addition to the above, Marla Ahlgrimm explains that some medical conditions, such as uterine fibroids or endometriosis, can cause symptoms that might overlap with pregnancy.
Physical and hormonal changes and disruptions are not the only things that can cause a woman to believe that she is pregnant. Those who have miscarried or have trouble conceiving in the first place may have such a strong desire for motherhood that they can mistake normal bodily sensations as pregnancy symptoms. Marla Ahlgrimm says that women have also experienced past pregnancies, and especially those with a traumatic pregnancy, may also be misattuned to their bodies.
Depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions can also manifest as pregnancy-like physical symptoms.
True Phantom Pregnancies
According to Marla Ahlgrimm, many women may believe they are pregnant for 2 to 3 months before their body finally returns to normal. However, in rare cases, women can experience all of the symptoms of a full-term pregnancy, including abdominal distention. These women may also be experiencing mental health issues to have them mistrusting healthcare providers that tell her she is not pregnant.
In some cases, hormone fluctuations can also play a role in a long-term phantom pregnancy.
The “Non-Pregnant” Moms
On the other side of the token of phantom pregnancies are women who experience zero symptoms of pregnancy to wind up giving emergency birth. In 2019, an Australian model named Erin Langmaid gave birth without warning on the bathroom floor. She is one of many “cryptic pregnancy” cases. These happen when hormone fluctuations in normal pregnancy symptoms are not recognized. Marla Ahlgrimm also adds that Langmaid did not gain weight, had no “baby bump,” and continued to have a normal cycle throughout her unknown pregnancy.
Other examples of cryptic pregnancies include Scottish-born Naomi McPherson, who gave birth while visiting her parents on holiday in 2009, and Jaci Adams who, in 2011, gave birth after suffering what she thought to be ovarian cysts for more than half a year.